By Kara Hall
Tightening immigration laws represent a new era of cracking down in France, as non-nationals with criminal convictions legally living in France are facing deportation. The publication of the new immigration law on January 26th comes after France’s Constitutional Council censured 35 of the 86 articles, including the contentious additions which were a result of right-wing and far-right pressures. For many, only the far-right Rassemblement National has emerged victorious from this process. By putting his need to reach an agreement with the right-wing opposition ahead of his responsibility to serve democracy and the law in France, President Emmanuel Macron has effectively placed his head on the chopping block.
Four days prior to the Constitutional Council’s decision on whether all articles in the law conform to the French Constitution, 75,000 people took to the streets to call on Macron not to sign the legislation into law. A call for the march saw the law as “written under the dictate of the merchants of hate who dream of imposing on France their project of ‘national preference.’” The idea of national preference has been a pillar in far-right rallying cries which implies that French nationals, not foreigners, should profit from the riches of the land. A narrative so selfish only reinforces the growing hostile environment across Europe which does not welcome ‘foreigners,’ many of which are in fact victims of war. Rhetoric which uses this label is merely a far-right populist tactic which aims to alienate migrants from those who were born in France - a way of positioning them as a burden on both the country and people who occupy it.
With what people are now calling a muddled law with minimal potential effects, provisions of the initial bill that survived the Constitutional Council have detailed the suppression of certain protections, possible appeals against forced deportations of foreigners, and the authorization for a single judge to give final rulings on asylum applications instead of the original panel of three. Those who migrated to France before they were 13 or those who have lived in France for more than 20 years also face removal from the country if they are served substantial jail terms and deemed to be a ‘grave threat to public order’. The controversial bill saw the Council rule that almost all amendments added by the right-wing Led Républicains and the MPs in Macron’s coalition were unconstitutional, ruling they were ‘legislative riders’.
The right-wing has used the Court’s as scapegoats in their plea to put the people against the judges and blow up constitutional and European safeguards to legalise the discrimination of non-national citizens and migrants. Jordan Bardella, president of the far-right National Rally Party, criticised what he called ‘a coup by the judges, with the backing of the president’ in a post on X. In slamming the court’s annulment, Bardella went further to suggest “The Constitutional Council has censured those measures that were most approved by the French people. The immigration law is dead in the water. The only solution is a referendum on immigration.”
Mr Macron himself has referred to the new law as a much needed ‘shield’ which would combat the ‘immigration problem’ France is facing. He added that his government needed to ‘stand by’ the measure and ‘calm tensions in the country’. Whilst this debate continues, the right-wing’s pressures have wriggled away from any sort of accountability for their use of immigration debate as a political instrument.
This necessary debate on immigration in France has turned into a long-standing game of political chess that holds a worrying future.
It is undoubtedly clear that pressures from the right have indoctrinated the people of France with radicalised opinions on migrants. Rather than acknowledging the probability that migrants are in fact fleeing from persecution and conflict, dog-whistle tactics have seen fears over an ‘identity issue’ amply play out in France. There seems to be a case of deja-vu occurring in France, with it being only six short years ago that the French National Assembly passed an immigration law which shortened asylum application deadlines, doubled the time for which illegal migrants could be detained, and introduced a one-year prison sentence for those who entered France illegally. Emmanuel Macron has evidently positioned himself as a right-wing mouthpiece in immigration debates historically - and with no sight of this stopping it is blatantly obvious that this phenomenon will continue.
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